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Shoulds are a Killjoy
Holiday-time evokes a lot of should-talk:
“I should go to that party because so-and-so will be upset with me if I don’t.”
“We should scour this house before the in-laws arrive.”
“She should show more gratitude for the gifts she has gotten.”
“They should get their act together and arrive on time.”
Sound familiar? The image of someone wagging their index finger at another person (or themselves) comes to mind. If only we could eliminate this word from all dictionaries! When we allow our lives to be dictated by shoulds – either our own or those that others impose on us – our joy meter tumbles fast. When we don’t do what we or someone else expresses to us as a should, we feel bad. When we feel bad, guilt or shame are usually lurking in the shadows and joy is out of sight.
There are ramifications if we do follow through on a should, too. Let’s say you go to that party you didn’t really want to go to: you may end up feeling annoyed with yourself, or the same emotion may be directed towards the host, or the person who “should-ed” you. Annoyance often leads to resentment, and once again, joy gets more and more out of reach.
So what is the right answer, given that there are possible joy-depleting side effects whether you do or don’t do what you should? Perhaps all you can do is minimize the likelihood of either guilt and shame, or annoyance and resentment. If all that you do adds up to 100%, wouldn’t it be great if 90% of the time, you are doing what you WANT to do? With the remaining 10%, there may be some things you HAVE to do (such as filing your income tax return annually), but what if only 5% of all that you do was stuff that you SHOULD do? Wow; you might have a lot more energy and fun in your life! This might be too ambitious a goal but it is worth moving in that direction, no?
And speaking of the word, “No,” that’s the topic of a future issue of Out on a Limb! More specifically, saying No to other people’s shoulds, and managing the reactions you might get. Stay tuned!